ONE of Scotland’s most famous birds is on the brink of extinction, a leading expert on the species has warned.
The number of Capercaillie has fallen by more than half and the amount of birds left could be as low as 700.
Dr Robert Moss, the UK’s leading authority on Capercaillie, blames the potentially catastrophic decline on human encroachment onto the large grouse’s natural habitat combined with Scotland’s changing weather patterns.
He claims the country’s mild winters and cold springs have led Capercaillie hens to produce weaker chicks, which are more susceptible to disease and predation.
But, the RSPB have hit back saying Dr Moss is “premature” in talking of a local extinction of this species.
Moss, formerly of the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, is also concerned that a stronghold of the birds in Speyside is under threat from a tourism drive in the Cairngorms National Park.
Nature walks and mountain biking have eroded the bird’s habitat and chicks are killed by dogs who are allowed to run free.
The estimates will embarrass conservation bodies such as the RSPB which have received more than 5 million Euros of public money over the past decade to save the bird.
Dr Moss said: “Conservation money has given Capercaillie a better chance, but if the weather continues they could be extinct within 10 years.”
James Reynolds, spokesman for the RSPB, said: “There is little doubt that the conservation of Capercaillie presents a very major challenge, but the way to respond to that is certainly not to give in to it.
“Resources are in place to deliver real benefits to this species over the next few years, with many positive projects under way presently.
“Capercaillie’s most favoured habitat is pristine Caledonian pine forest – a habitat that, until the latter part of the last century, had been continually declining and fragmenting for some 4,000 years.
“Now, with real on-the-ground habitat conservation being delivered for this magnificent grouse species, for the first time in several millennia this precious forest is spreading, benefiting a vast array of native wildlife.
“As such it is premature to start to talk about local extinction of this species.”
And Colin Seddon, Manager of the Scottish SPCA Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fife, said: “Changes in weather patterns, such as the damper winters and warmer summers, are adversely affecting the abundance of blueberries, an important food source for the Capercaillie.
“But there are many other threats facing Scotland’s rare native bird. Their nesting and mating grounds are affected by disturbances by members of the public and dog walkers.
“And the construction of deer fencing is another factor. When disturbed the birds will often fly into the fences in fright resulting in injury or death.”